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Garmin Vivofit review: Captures all your data, never needs charging, syncs wirelessly

Activity trackers are useful when they provide date tracking with little to no effort on your part. Garmin succeeded in bringing a tracker with all the basics in a device that doesn't ever need to be charged up.
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1 of 25 Matthew Miller/ZDNET

Garmin Vivofit and extra wristbands

Regular readers know I am a regular activity tracker user and write about them extensively here on the Mobile Gadgeteer blog. I've been using the Jawbone UP24 for a few months and was quite happy with the band, until now.

Latest review

I didn't think much about the news regarding the Garmin Vivofit, but after using one for the last two weeks I think I may just have found the perfect activity tracker and the fact that I don't have to worry about ever charging it up is a major advantage.

The Garmin Vivofit has two replaceable CR1632 coin cell batteries that are reported to last over a year. When it comes to fitness trackers this is a huge advantage, especially when you look at devices like the Samsung Gear Fit that needs to be charged every two to four days.

Hardware

The Garmin Vivofit is a rather small rectangular device that fits into a silicone wrist band with both small and large bands included in the retail package. The large band fit me with about 1/2 inch left over. There are notches in each end of the device to securely hold the Vivofit in the band with no real possibility that it will fall out.

You can buy other band colors, including green, blue, and purple and pop the Vivofit into various color bands as you see fit. There are two short posts that fit into openings in the band to hold the Vivofit in place on your wrist.

The back of the Vivofit is curved a bit and fits very comfortably on my wrist. I barely realized the Vivofit was on my wrist and found it to be far more comfortable than the UP24 that has ends that snag on my shirts and coats. It weighs in at just 25.5 grams.

The display is always on and measures 25.5 x 10 mm. There is no backlight and the only time I was left wanting it was when I switched into sleep mode. I kept having to hold my smartphone up to make sure I enabled sleep mode since there is no vibration feedback either.

You will find the color red appear at the top of the display as you remain inactive. The first red bar, taking up half of the display, appears after one hour of inactivity with additional segments showing up every 15 minutes. You will need to move around for a few minutes of continuous walking to reset the red bars. I actually found the red bars to be quite motivating over the past few weeks as it gave me frequent reminders to leave my desk and walk around during the workday.

There is one physical button found below the display and integrated into the band. You use the button to toggle between the different views that include steps taken, steps to reach your goal, miles walked, calories burned, time, and date. Press and hold for about two seconds to initiate syncing, about four seconds to enable sleep mode, about six seconds to pair with a new device or computer, and about 12 seconds to reset the Vivofit.

The Vivofit also has ANT+ support so you can connect a heart rate monitor and view this data on the device as well. The great thing is that you can use almost any ANT+ heart rate strap to connect to the Vivofit or purchase the combo pack that includes one.

The Vivofit syncs to compatible Android and iOS devices via Bluetooth. Sync initiation takes place when you press and hold the button for about two seconds.

Software

There is both smartphone and PC software for the Vivofit and you can use either to setup your Vivofit. I installed the Garmin Connect application on a couple Android smartphones and started off by connecting to my phones.

The Garmin Connect smartphone app connects to the Garmin Connect website with a new design. I found the Garmin Connect website to work well, but have read of many others who were not satisfied with its performance. You can see a few screenshots of the website in my image gallery. I like that the service brings together Vivofit data, fitness activities, goals, team data, and more.

One thing I find frustrating about life trackers is goals that I rarely ever meet or that I manually set that are unrealistic (too low or too high). Garmin added some intelligence to the Vivofit so that your goal will adjust based on your typical activity level as measured over time. I was worried that it might adjust dramatically when I went for longer runs, but they seem to have figured out how to do it right. Like other trackers, it starts out at 10,000 steps and then adjusts at a reasonable level to reach achievable goals. You can also manually enter your goal, but I highly encourage you to give the auto goal function a try and let Garmin motivate you to move.

Fitbit and Jawbone do a good job of connecting other services and data into their ecosystems. Garmin's Vivofit data is kept within their ecosystem, but you can also import running data from services like Runkeeper and then view that data within the Garmin Connect application. I like having both my fitness and activity tracking data in one location, which is why I like the UP24 and Garmin Vivofit.

The sleep data is pretty limited and just provides you with the basic length of time you slept with some movement information. Jawbone's UP provides the most extensive sleep data I have seen, but I never really use that data and just view it for personal interest. The data provided by the Vivofit is enough to motivate you to get more or less sleep and that is really all that is needed.

You can view your activity data in detail on your smartphone or via the webpage, including viewing the data over selected periods of time.

Usage and experiences

I cannot tell you how much of a relief it is to use an activity tracker where you never even have to think about the battery life, where in the heck you placed it, or if it is capturing data. It would be perfect if the Vivofit automatically went into sleep tracking mode when you went to bed, but the data isn't that critical and so much else is done just right.

The Garmin Vivofit went with me to Disneyland last week and performed flawlessly. It is very comfortable and has lived on my wrist for weeks. I no longer weae a watch since the Vivofit provides this functionality and I bought my own as soon as I finished this review.

Pros and Cons

To summarize my experiences with the Garmin Vivofit, here are my pros and cons.

Pros Cons
Over one year battery life No backlighting to see the display at night
Always on display and comfortable form factor No vibration for alarm functionality
Motivational move bar  
ANT+ support for heart rate monitor connectivity  
Waterproof design so you never have to remove it  

Pricing and availability

The Garmin Vivofit is available now for $129.99. You can also buy a bundle with a heart rate monitor for $169.99.

You can purchase various heart rate monitors and carrying cases for the device with a three pack of blue, green, and purple bands available for $24.99.

The competition

Fitbit had the Force, but recently recalled it so it is no longer a valid competitor. Jawbone has the UP24 that I have been using for months, but it has no integrated display and is priced a bit more than the Vivofit.

Samsung has their new Gear Fit that provides some fitness tracking with smartwatch functions. There are other activity trackers available in this price range, but I haven't found any that offer as much as the Vivofit with a one year battery life.

Specifications
21 mm wide x 10.5 mm thick
Band lengths from 120-175 mm (small) and 152-210 mm (large)
Weight of 25.5 grams
Water resistant up to 50 meters
Stores up to 3 weeks of 24/7 activity data on device between syncs, or up to 2 weeks if a heart rate monitor is used 1 hr/day
ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart wireless technology

Conclusion

I was mostly satisfied with the Jawbone UP24 and didn't think much about looking for another fitness tracker. The Garmin Vivofit surprised me with the useful functionality combined with extremely long battery life. Having to never remove a tracker or worry about charging it up is what makes it something that will be used daily.

The Garmin Vivofit also provides the right amount of motivation to encourage you to get up and move. The display is easy to read, the button works well at switching between modes, syncing via Bluetooth has been flawless, and the Garmin Connect database works well at managing and presenting your fitness data.

Contributor's rating: 9 out of 10

Related coverage:

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Two black bands are included, along with simple directions

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The Vivofit outside of the wrist band

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It's easy to snap into colored bands

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Tracking my movement at Disneyland

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Steps taken so far

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Steps to reach my goal

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Miles walked

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Calories burned

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Time of day

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Back of the wrist band

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Garmin Connect web application view of data

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Another view from the web app

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Sleep data tracks hours of sleep and movement

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Another view of the web app

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View from web app showing friends, trends, and achievements

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Managing the Vivofit via the web

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Fitness activities are integrated into Garmin Connect

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Android application daily view

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View of weekly data on an Android device

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Monthly trends from an Android device

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Sleep data as shown on your phone

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Run data from Runkeeper, Garmin Connect, and more can be shown

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Details of my run, as captured in Runkeeper and exported

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Menu on the Android application

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